WASHINGTON           -          US President Donald Trump is facing staunch criticism for retweeting a post that included the alleged name of the whistlebower whose complaint led to the president’s impeachment.

Mr Trump shared a post from a user named @surfermom77, who described themselves as a “100% Trump supporter”.

The retweet was later removed from the president’s Twitter timeline but could still be found via a direct link. Mr Trump has repeatedly called for the whistleblower to be identified.

The US has federal laws that guarantee the protection of whistleblowers, designed to shield those who come forward with evidence of wrongdoing by the government.

In November, lawyers for the whistleblower - who is said to work in the US intelligence community - issued a cease-and-desist warning to the president, saying their client was “in physical danger”. But the president ignored the warning and continued to call for them to be named.

Previous posts by @surfermom77 - the Twitter user retweeted by President Trump - include anti-Islam content and posts spreading the false conspiracy theory that President Barack Obama was a Muslim.

According to a report by the Associated Press, the account bears the hallmarks of an automated “bot” account, “including an unusually high amount of activity and profile pictures featuring stock images from the internet”.

The account’s profile picture - a stock photo of a woman in business attire that was pulled from the internet - was changed on Saturday to an image of Mr Trump.

Facebook has a policy of banning posts that name the alleged whistleblower, the New York Times reported, but Twitter does not. In a statement issued to the Associated Press, Twitter said the @surfermom77 tweet was “not a violation of the Twitter Rules”.

What was the reaction?

The president had already faced criticism from Democratic leaders over his ongoing efforts to publicise the whistleblower’s identity.

In response to his retweet on Saturday, attorney Stephen Kohn, an expert in whistleblower protection laws, told the Washington Post that the president was violating his duty to safeguard whistleblowers.

“The paradox is that it was the president’s duty to protect this person,” Mr Kohn said. “It’s inconceivable that he not only doesn’t do it, but violates it.”

A former whistleblower told the Associated Press that the ease with which the person’s identity had been spread online demonstrated the need for greater legal protection.

Michael German, who left the FBI after reporting allegations of mismanagement, said it was “completely inappropriate for the president of the United States to be engaged in any type of behaviour that could harm a whistleblower”.

The controversy centres around a call between Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky and President Trump

With a wealth of first-hand testimony, Democrats have moved the impeachment on from the whistleblower’s evidence. But the president and other Republicans have worked to keep the whistleblower in the press.

In an audio recording that emerged in September, President Trump was heard comparing the whistleblower’s sources to a “spy”. Then in an apparent reference to the execution of spies by the US in the past, he said: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? With spies and treason, right? We used to handle them a little differently than we do now.”

According to reports in the Washington Post and the Guardian, the person named by right wing media as the whistleblower was receiving a spike in threats when the president tweeted about them, and was being driven to and from work by armed security officers following the threats.